Original might not mean mint. Decoys with slight paint loss and shot marks can still bring a premium; those that have been repainted or touched up will not.

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Before that sale, which offered the collection of another respected collector, , values were in the hundreds, not thousands, of dollars.

The two day , produced jointly by in January 2000, made international news. The Bowman curlew? It brought $464,500. A 19th century ruddy turnstone went for $470,000, a Mason's wood drake duck for $354,500.

Described as the only completely indigenous American folk art, the first decoys were crafted by American Indians more than a millennium ago. White settlers adapted the idea, carving bird replicas in wood (rather than wrapping bird skins around reeds) to attract waterfowl into range. Now the decoys themselves are the subject of enthusiastic hunting, appreciated by collectors as antiques and as art.

But the Dallas man did his homework and started attending auctions on the East Coast, the center of decoy activity for collectors now, as it was for carvers a century ago. It was at an auction on Cape Cod, around 1980, that he met another decoy crazy Texan named James McCleery, a name already famous in collecting circles.

Floaters and stick ups represent the two main decoy types. Floaters may be hollow, with separately carved heads and weighted bottoms.

´╗┐an antique wooden decoy can be valuable

Values also depend on the aesthetic appeal of a decoy, the carver, the rarity. Most decoys were not signed by their makers though some bear the stamp of their owners, making retrieval from a lake easier so study is required to become familiar with the characteristics and artistic styles of important carvers.

The sale of McCleery's holdingsset the standard against which all decoys (and auctions) are judged.

The decades between 1840 and 1918 were considered the "great age of the decoy," also known as the market hunting period, during which millions of birds were slaughtered.

Guyette and Schmidt Inc., the world's premier decoy auction company, advertises decoys under $500, and the firm's vice president, , says decoys can be found in shops and shows for "$25, $50, $100 on up."

Stick ups, which imitated shorebirds, often were carved from a single, solid piece of wood, mounted on sticks or poles, then stuck into the sand or a marsh.

That said, collectors with an avid interest but fewer dollars to invest can still find good specimens for much less. Prime decoys can be had for a few thousand dollars.

The auction star was a circa 1917 sleeping Canada goose carved and painted by of Massachusetts and deemed worth $684,500 by an enthusiastic bidder. In all, the auction brought $11 million, about double the original estimates.

Herons, cranes, swans and egrets in large numbers also were killed for their plumage, their feathers sold to adorn the hats of late Victorian era women. Some species, such as the passenger pigeon, became extinct, making their decoy effigies that much more important.

Should you find an old duck decoy in PawPaw's shed, don't take it to the lake, give it to the kids or, heaven forbid, let the dog play with it. It could be junk, worthless as the cracked cane pole next to it. Or it could be a prime specimen of American folk art valued at half a million dollars or more.

When McCleery's own collection was auctioned after his death in 1999, the infamous "doctor from Texas" again altered the decoy world.

Among the makers collectors should know are Crowell of Cape Cod, the Ward Brothers (Steve and Lem), August "Gus" Wilson, , Sr. and the Mason Decoy Factory. McCleery lamented that he knew of no great Texas decoy carvers. "Wild Fowl Decoys" by (, $24.95), first published in 1934 and still an important reference.

McCleery. a pathologist, had stunned decoy devotees seven years before by paying $10,500 for a long billed curlew decoy Discount Women Canada Goose Kensington Parka Black New Zealand made by in the 1800s.

The effect on decoy carvers was profound, with many going out of business and others adapting to produce more decorative birds meant to adorn mantels .